In the early 1970s, Toronto’s Yonge Street was a place to see and be seen. The sidewalks from Bloor to Queen were filled with people shopping for Indian cotton gauze shirts from stores that smelled like pachouli, buying head shop roach clips fashioned from hardware intended to look innocuous to feckless cops, and scoring the latest 45s from Sam the Record Man and Sunrise Records. There was also the requisite scavenge at the Army Surplus store for khaki pants that had drawstrings at the bottom of the legs so they didn’t need to be hemmed and pockets out the yin-yang to stow your roach clips. Alas, I am sorry to report that even the panhandlers have forsaken Yonge Street these days.
Don’t get me wrong. The Yonge Street of yore still had many dodgy store fronts. Back in the day, one of my friends entered what purported to be a fur store, only to be shooed out by a bunch of men playing poker with piles of money sitting on the floor. But that was then. I am sorry to report that the Church of Scientology “free personality assessment” centre that used to be on Yonge south of Charles has bit the dust, likely to be a condo coming soon. Don’t worry. I have already sent a note to Tom Cruise to look into this, although if you are really needing a Scientology fix, you will be glad to know there is still a location on Broadview just south of Gerrard.
Morningstar, which used to be on the west side of the street north of Wellesley, sold me countless Indian cotton gauze tops and the Coty Wild Musk whose scent swirled around my body like Pigpen’s debris for pretty much all of the decade. Sometime in the past few years, it had moved to the east side of the street and changed its business model to purveying apartment-size couches and sundry furniture made from what I am sure is endangered wood. Or at least wood that comes from shrinking rainforests. When I was down there a week or so ago, it had a going out of business sign on the door. I did not go in.
There is now a distinctly Asian influence arising from the ashes of the headshops. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. An H-Mart has sprung up just north of Irwin. If you are not familiar with H-Mart, it is the Mecca (mixed metaphor?) for all things Korean. As I am often baffled by the ingredient lists for the recipes crowding my Bon Appetite magazines (Korean apparently having elbowed out French and Italian as the cuisine du jour and di oggi), H-Mart is a revelation. I am rarely in a position to cart home bags of groceries from downtown, but I am the proud owner of a container of Gochujang hot pepper paste. I recently noticed the best before is August of this year, so I need to get going on my budae jjigae, dakgalbi and tteokbokki. It also sells my favourite shrimp chips (no shrimp were harmed in their production), but at $8.99 a bag, they did not make it to the checkout desk. I guess the Korean won has appreciated substantially.
But everything has a season. And I dearly hope Yonge Street’s will bloom again. And also, can anyone tell me where the heck can I buy army surplus pants? Just askin’.